Tonight was my first speaking event for Stop Stigma Sacramento, I spoke in front of about 40 people. Most of them were board members of the Sacramento Children's Home, and also many of their spouses. Below is my speech.
Hello. My name is Danny Price. I am a 4th grade teacher, a
father of two teenage boys, a husband, a son, a youth worker for my church and
a friend to many. I also live with mental illness. Today I will be
talking about something I kept secret for many years,. Something I was
once ashamed of. I have learned, though, over the last several years that
living with a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. I live with major
depression and anxiety. It is an illness, a medical issue, just like
diabetes or cancer.
I have lived with major depression and anxiety since my teenage years.
As I think back I first noticed something seemed wrong when I was a young
teenager. I felt different than everybody else. I had friends and lived
an outwardly normal existence, but on the inside I was filled with fear, shame,
and pain. My high school years were very difficult emotionally, but
because I was scared and ashamed I didn't tell anyone about it. There was
not much awareness about mental health 30 years ago, and I didn't understand
what was happening. My family also didn't understand or recognize the
symptoms, therefore I did not receive any help or support with my
problems. This continued into college.
Around the age of 20 I first took action to do something about this pain I
felt. I don’t remember how it happened to be honest. I first
started therapy and antidepressants in my early 20s. I stayed in
the same therapy group for 7 years and it changed my life. The work was
very hard and slow. During this time and after I would go off of my
medication once I started to feel better. This went on for years I
would have long periods of doing well. But eventually it would always
creep back in. And not only that, but each time the interval between
episodes would get shorter, and the intensity of the episode would be
stronger. This continued, and about 4 years ago I hit a breaking point.
One of the misperceptions about depression is that it is a reaction to bad
things happening in your life. While this can be true, it isn't always
this way. sometimes things can be going along just fine and depression will hit
anyway. This is where I was in the summer of 2011. Everything
in my life was going well, and I quickly fell into a deep depression.
This made it really hard for me. What's wrong with me that I feel this
way when I have so many good things in my life? I should just be grateful
for all that I have. It was the end of summer and I was getting
ready to go back to work. I had tapered off of my medication with help
from my doctor. The depression hit quickly and harder than ever. I worked
very hard to keep up the appearance of normalcy on the outside, but inside I
was falling apart. Over the next several weeks as I went back to work
things got worse. I had trouble making it through the work day. I
didn't feel like myself anymore. I felt a constant heaviness, I couldn't
smile, I wasn't able to sleep, and I often cried for no apparent reason. I was
losing control of my life. It was incredibly scary. Depression
tells me lies, it tells lies to everyone who suffers. And when you are in
the middle of it, it's easy to believe the lies. The worst part of this
particular occurrence of depression was that I became absolutely convinced that
I was a burden to all those around me and that everyone would be better off if
I was not alive. I did not actively seek to end my life, but I did wish I
wasn't alive. The pain was so unbearable that I did not want to live.
I was very scared, and I realized I needed help. I had never had an episode of depression this
bad before. I took it more seriously than I had in the past.
Instead of just going to my regular doctor, I went to see a psychiatrist and
got back on medication. It was the first time I had been officially diagnosed.
I have recurrent major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety
disorder. I also went back to see my therapist. This was different
also. In my work there I began to recognize how difficult it was for me
to pretend that all is well when it isn't. I didn't want to live this way
I slowly began the process of coming out in the open with my illness.
I started this process by having conversations with friends and family.
It was very scary, and I wasn't sure how people would respond. I was
afraid people would judge me, think less of me, or discount my
experience. To my surprise many people shared with me ways in which their
lives had been affected by mental illness. Some had struggled themselves,
many had friends or family members with depression or other mental illness, and
sadly some had lost loved ones to suicide. I realized that by talking
about my struggles I gave permission to others to do the same. Realizing the
healing effect talking about my illness had both on me and those around me I
decided to do more.
Since that time I have become outspoken about mental illness and have become
an advocate. Through social media I have met many other advocates from
around the world. I now live openly with my mental illness. I
had no idea how freeing that would feel. It was like a huge weight was
lifted off my shoulders. Living openly has taken away much of the power
depression holds over me. Depression thrives on secrecy, it makes you
think it is all your fault. But the good news is it's not. It's an
illness. A chemical imbalance in your brain. Like any illness it's
hard to manage, but it can be done. I take medication daily and still go
to therapy twice a month. I have a strong
support system in real life and through social media . Having come to
accept my mental illness, and seeing the effect it has had on me has made me
want to speak out even more. And that is why I'm here talking to you
I speak out is because I know firsthand how isolating it can be trying to
fight this illness alone. I speak out because I know that two thirds of
the people with mental illness do not seek help. I speak out to let
people know that they are not alone, and to end the stigma surrounding mental
illness. I speak out because over 40,000 people die each year in the
United States to suicide, with nearly a million making attempts. And
finally, I speak out because I know in doing so it can change and save lives.
We can all do things to help decrease the stigma. The first is to take action
and seek help for ourselves if we are struggling. Also, we can have
conversations with others and challenge stereotypes about mental illness when
we hear them. The last point I will leave
you with is that we who struggle with mental illnesses become masters at hiding
our pain and struggles. Therefore, the most important thing to do
is to treat each other with compassion because we may not know for sure who is
suffering. Listening to each other
is valuable, and I thank you for
listening to my story.